“He’s okay.” They were the first words out of Tim’s mouth when Simon answered his cell. His hands weren’t shaking any longer, which he supposed was a good thing because he had a cup of hot coffee in one of them. Sitting in a very comfortable waiting room chair, he tapped his foot anxiously while keeping his eyes on the hallway that led to Matt’s private room.
Tim wished he had no reason to know that Mount Sinai had a hospitality staff and a swanky ward that looked more like the Plaza Hotel than a hospital. The concierge staff had already kindly pointed out the library, lounge, and dining space where continental breakfast would be served in the morning. It was a very surreal experience in the midst of crisis.
“Tim? What does that mean? What’s wrong?”
“He didn’t want me to call, but if it were me, I’d want to know that he’s in the hospital.”
Simon’s heart rate skyrocketed, and it was all he could do to not collapse onto the floor. He was in the bedroom that he shared far too infrequently with his husband, changing into his business suit for the day while the boys were finishing up getting ready for school, and he was incredibly thankful they weren’t in earshot. “What. Happened?”
"We were shooting a scene in Central Park, and he just…" Tim trailed off as he replayed the moment in his mind.
Neal and Peter were in the middle of an argument about Neal's latest scam with Mozzie, but Tim had noticed that Matt was flushed and sweaty. He hoped they'd get through a couple more takes and then get to break while the cameras were turned around.
"I can’t believe this, Neal! Every time I give you an inch, you hang yourself with it. Every time."
"It wasn't supposed to go this way, Peter." Matt's cadence was off on the line, and he looked like he was struggling to remember what to say.
Tim kept going, thinking they could save the take instead of having to do it over. He raised his voice and punctuated his last sentence with a finger stab to Matt's chest, "Don't ever do it again!"
Matt took a step back and opened his mouth to say his next line, but nothing came out. His eyes were wide and panicked as he swayed in his spot and then stumbled toward Tim.
"Matty?" Tim reached out to catch him just as Matt's eyes rolled back and his knees buckled. "Medic! Someone get the medic!"
Matt's skin was cold and clammy, and Tim's panic went up a notch. It was already a hot New York summer morning and Matt was wearing a three-piece vintage Neal Caffrey ensemble.
Before Tim got his fingers on the pulse point under Matt's jaw, Matt was moaning and squirming in his arms. "Matty?"
Matt pushed at Tim's hands without even opening his eyes and rolled onto his side. "Sick," he murmured. "Gonna puke."
"Whoa. Take a breath." Tim started massaging the back of Matt's neck to try and relax him while he looked around frantically. "Where the hell's the set medic?" he asked a PA, who came running up with a bottle of water.
Matt coughed and gagged briefly, but he must not have had enough in his stomach because he eventually leaned back against Tim's legs and groaned.
The director, a guy they'd never worked with before, looked like he had no idea what to do while Jeff King and some of the other members of production hurried toward them. Matt reached for Tim's hand when everyone crowded around them started asking questions or laying their hands on him to try and help.
Matt's eyes opened to slits. "What's… what happened? Tim?"
"I'm here," Tim replied, squeezing Matt's neck gently. He waved his free hand toward the others. "Give him some space to catch his breath."
The crew, except for Jeff, moved a few steps back. "The medic's coming, Matt. How are you feeling?"
"I don't… Ummm… What?"
He was clearly confused and in some pain, so Jeff didn't press him for answers. As soon as Tess, the on-set medic, dropped onto her knees beside them with her heavy-duty first aid bag, Jeff moved back with the crew.
Simon cleared his throat on the other end of the call. "Tim? What did the doctor say?"
"He's exhausted, dehydrated, and more than a little hypoglycemic. They're still running tests, but they've already got him on an IV."
"Okay." Simon rubbed his hand over his face and paced the length of the bedroom for a minute. "I can catch the next flight out to New York. My sister will pick the boys up from school and watch the dog, so that's taken care of."
"He's going to be mad that I called you." Tim hadn't really thought farther than the fact that he would want to know if Elisa was sick.
"Let me take care of that. Can you stay with him until I get there? I hate to ask, but-"
"Of course," Tim replied. "Jeff shut down production for the rest of today and tomorrow until we see what's what."
"Has anyone talked to Ryan?"
Tim had completely forgotten about The Normal Heart set. Matt had been going back and forth for the last couple of weeks, shooting scenes for one show in the morning and the other in the afternoon or night.
"I'll talk to him on the way to the airport," Simon said into the silence. "Just update me when you hear something."
They said their goodbyes, and Tim sat back in his chair and looked back down the hallway. Dr. Tanaka, Matt's current physician, was walking toward him with a clipboard and a very serious expression. Tim's heart dropped to his toes.
"Is he okay?"
"He's resting a bit more comfortably. I gave him an antiemetic and a sedative to calm him down. He's very worried about needing to be on set this afternoon for a stunt involving a fire escape and a trash dumpster." Dr. Tanaka raised an eyebrow. "Do you know anything about that?"
Tim nodded, suddenly realizing how certain parts of their job sounded to other people. "It was on the schedule after lunch, but production's been shut down for a couple of days. How is he?"
"I'm very concerned. He's experiencing an arrhythmia." The doctor put a hand over his heart and fluttered it. "I think that's due to an electrolyte imbalance, so we have him on an IV. It'll help with the dehydration as well."
Tim nodded but didn't know what to say.
"We're going to keep him tonight and run some tests in the morning to see if his body is responding to the treatment."
"Thank you, doctor."
"He's been asking for you, so you can go on back."
Tim shook the doctor's hand and waited for him to leave before pulling out his cell phone and updating Simon on Matt's condition. Simon had already made his travel arrangements and was going to email Tim the details before his plane took off. Now, all Tim had left to do was go sit with Matt until his husband arrived.
Inside the hospital room that was spacious, decked out in early 18th century furniture, and overlooked Central Park, the lights were dimmed, but there was a glow being given off by the monitors to the left of Matt's head. Tim stopped and watched them for a moment, noting the abnormal, slightly fast heartbeat.
Matt's eyes opened when the door shut. "Hey."
Tim pulled a chair over and sat down beside the bed. While avoiding the IV needle taped to the back of Matt's hand, he stroked his fingers up and down Matt's forearm. This always seemed to calm him when he was anxious about a scene and they were running lines in the dressing room. "How're you doing?"
"'M tired. Feels like my heart is going to jump out of my chest."
"Yeah. The doctor's working on that. Are you in pain? Do you need anything?" Tim had never been good at the bedside vigil. When Elisa had each of their two kids, she'd all but kicked him out of the delivery rooms. He didn't know what to say or where to put his hands or anything like that.
"Time machine," Matt mumbled. "Go back a few days and make this not happen."
"I think it was pretty inevitable, buddy. You've been running yourself ragged physically and emotionally between sets, and something had to give. I wish you'd told me that you weren't feeling well, though."
Matt sighed and averted his eyes. "Been tired and light-headed, but I haven't been sleeping well. It's hard when the season starts."
Tim nodded. He understood how difficult it was when you'd gotten just enough time in LA to get used to sleeping with your spouse again before you had to pack up and move back to a cold, lonely apartment in New York. "I know. Why don't you get some sleep now?"
"Are you…" Matt frowned and didn't complete his thought.
"What is it?"
"Will you stay? For a little while, at least. You probably have to get back to set soon." Matt's brow furrowed as his eyes swept up and down Tim's torso.
He was still wearing the suit he'd been wearing in the scene in Central Park – Peter Burke's ill-fitting Brooks Brothers. Now that Matt had drawn attention to it, Tim felt uncomfortable. "No, I don't need to go back today. Just rest. I'll be here."
Matt's eyes widened, and he started to sit up but Tim's hand on his chest prevented it. "Tell me they didn't shut down. Tim?"
"Just for today," he took a breath and his eyes darted away before he continued, "and tomorrow. It's okay. Don't worry about it. The decision's been made, and we'll re-evaluate tomorrow when we see how you're doing."
Matt groaned and sank into his pillows. "I can't believe this is happening."
"Hey, Matty." Tim waited until Matt's eyes were locked on his. "Don't worry about it. Everyone just wants you to be okay. So, sleep now, and we'll talk about it later."
Matt looked like he wanted to protest, but he was too exhausted. His eyes slipped closed and stayed that way as his breathing evened out. The heart monitor was still worrisome but had slowed a bit.
Matt slept the rest of the afternoon away, waking only briefly when poked or prodded by a nurse. Tim stepped out and called Jeff King, who sent a PA to the hospital with Tim's clothes from his trailer so that he could change out of Peter's wardrobe. The PA, Janie, was kind enough to bring his iPad and Matt's glasses from his own trailer too.
Janie had also run a few errands for Tim, including grabbing him a sandwich from a deli down the street, a newspaper and crossword book from the hospital gift shop, and one of Matt's favorite smoothies from the Jamba Juice nearby. Tim had asked the nurse if it would be okay, and she said that Matt would probably sleep most of the day, but if he was willing to drink it, he could have it.
It was after six when Simon arrived in a rumpled polo shirt with his overnight bag slung over one shoulder. Tim had never seen him look quite so disheveled. He quickly moved to the other side of the bed and put his hand on Matt's cheek. Matt nuzzled into the touch but didn't wake.
"How's he doing?" Simon asked in a whisper.
"He's been sleeping pretty much non-stop. We talked for a few minutes, and he's upset that production shut down, but he's just so exhausted." Tim had spent the last few hours going back over his recent work days with Matt. Sure, he'd looked tired, but he'd been doing two shows at once, and Tim knew what that was like. He'd never once thought about taking Matt aside and asking if everything was okay, and now he was kicking himself for that.
"Tim, it's not your fault." Simon pulled up a chair and looked across the bed at Matt's co-star and their friend. "He didn't tell me that he wasn't feeling well, and I talk to him every night. I asked him how it was going, and every time, he said that everything was fine."
Tim sighed and shrugged him shoulders. "I should have seen that he wasn't all right."
"He should have told someone," Simon countered. "If not one of us, then his doctor. He's been so focused on the roles and losing weight for Normal Heart…" He shook his head. "Matt is who he is."
"Stubborn and pig-headed. Thinks he's invincible. Yes, I'm familiar with him."
Simon cracked a smile. "Thanks for staying, Tim."
"No need for thanks." Tim stood and gathered his things. "I'll be back in the morning with coffee. I promised production that I'd give them an update tomorrow so they can figure out how to proceed. Tell him that I'm not sorry for calling you."
Simon nodded and Tim headed out the door, making sure to close it quietly. Now Simon had time to study Matt while his husband wasn't aware of it. Matt's trips back to LA had been less frequent since he started pulling double-duty, but he still made sure to Skype with the boys and Simon every other night or so. He'd put up the front that everything was okay, and Simon had to wonder if he'd been hiding the bags under his eyes with make-up.
Matt looked terrible. He was pale with dark circles around his eyes, and his breathing was a little off. Simon fell asleep to it so often during the summer that he knew there was something hitched about it. He glanced up at the monitors and saw that Matt's heart rate was unsteady, which Tim had mentioned earlier on the phone. That was distressing since Matt had been getting treatment for hours.
Simon cupped Matt's cheek and pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. "Matt?"
"Hmmm?" Matt moaned as he came back to consciousness. His eyes blinked open, and he squinted at Simon. "Babe?"
He gave his husband a soft smile and nodded. "Tim called me. Don't you dare be mad."
Matt sighed and leaned into Simon's palm. "Didn't want you to worry."
"It's much too late for that. But we'll talk about that later. How are you feeling?"
"Better," Matt replied. "Less like my heart's racing out of control, more like I've run a marathon and the adrenaline's still pumping though."
"You hate running."
"Don't I know it." Matt reached out and tugged Simon closer so that they could kiss again. "Missed you."
"I missed you too, hon. Go back to sleep. I'll be right here."
Matt's eyes were closed when Simon pulled away, but Matt still had a grip on his shirt. "Lay down with me?"
"We're both not going to fit on there, and you need to be comfortable," Simon replied, disengaging Matt's fingers long enough to intertwine them with his. He squeezed them as he sat back on his chair and got comfortable. "Close your eyes."
"Sing Good Night?"
Simon scoffed. "That's your job, hon."
"Please, babe," Matt murmured, already drifting off.
Simon cleared his throat and sang the first couple of lines, until Matt was truly asleep. The Beatles' song was the lullaby that Matt had sang to all the boys when they were babies, and now it was sang anytime someone felt sick or sad in their family. Simon took a cleansing breath, sat back and started making a plan for how Matt was going to balance his shooting commitments and his health for the foreseeable future.
The next morning, Simon called a meeting in the hospital conference room with members of both the White Collar and Normal Heart production teams, as well as Tim and Matt's doctor.
"How is Matt doing?" Ryan Murphy was the first to ask once everyone sat down.
Dr. Tanaka folded his hands on top of the table and regarded the men sitting around him. "I'll be honest, gentlemen. Mr. Bomer is very sick. I understand that he's been on a modified diet designed by a dietician and that he's been working on both a movie set and the tv show set for the last couple of weeks. In addition, he hasn't been sleeping well. When he was admitted yesterday, he was dehydrated, had low blood sugar, and was experiencing a heart arrhythmia that we haven't been able to correct with fluids and electrolyte boosters."
"Bottom line it for us, doctor," Jeff Eastin's voice came through the speakerphone in the center of the table.
"He needs to rest and take better care of himself. He's going to be staying in the hospital until we can determine the cause of his heart condition and treat it, which might be another day or it could be a week. I don't have all the answers right now."
Simon looked around at the men gathered in the room – Ryan Murphy and one of the other Heart producers were across the table, Jeff King and Tim were next to them – and they all looked stricken with worry about Matt.
"We're going to shut down for the rest of the week," Eastin said into the silence. "The writers and I are working on scripts that are lighter on Neal so that we can reduce Matt's workload. I spoke with Willie, Tiffani, Sharif, and Marsha, and they're all willing to step up and fill in the gaps."
Ryan leaned forward in his chair and nodded. "We've shut down for today, but we'll be shuffling the schedule so that Matt will have some time off. Right now, he has less screen time than he will this winter, so we'll have to revisit scheduling then."
Simon cleared his throat to bring the attention to him. "I think we should establish some guidelines about Matt's hours. If he's doing both shows in the same day, he shouldn't be on one set or the other for more than six hours. He gets at least ten hours of rest after wrapping for the day. And Ryan, we need to discuss using make-up and wardrobe for Felix's later scenes."
Ryan nodded. "I've already asked our make-up team to come up with some concept ideas for how to make that happen."
"Good. Once Matt's feeling better, I'm sure he'll want to meet with each production team to discuss moving forward, but I want those guidelines to stick. He doesn't get to compromise on matters of his health." Simon wasn't taking no for an answer on this, from any of them or Matt himself.
They talked for a few more minutes about the logistics of the next couple of weeks before the meeting broke up and the producers headed out. Dr. Tanaka motioned for Simon to stay in his seat and Tim moved around the table to sit next to Simon. If Matt's husband wanted him gone, he would ask him to leave.
"Mr. Halls, I think we need to take a more aggressive stance on the treatment of the heart arrhythmia."
"What do you suggest, doctor?"
"Cardioversion. We'll sedate Mr. Bomer and give his heart a low voltage shock to try to bring it back into a normal rhythm."
"Shock it?" Tim's own heart skipped a beat as the mental image of Matt's body jerking and coming up off an exam table like a heart attack victim overwhelmed him.
"It would be a low-voltage shock," the doctor emphasized.
Simon couldn't help but ask, "What are our other options?"
"We've already tried to regulate his heart with drug therapy, and while it has improved, it's still not a normal rhythm. Cardioversion is my recommended course of treatment at this time."
Simon looked over at Tim, who didn't have any words of encouragement. This was entirely new territory for both of them. "You said you'd sedate him?" Simon asked, after a moment of mulling it over.
"Yes. He won't be aware of the procedure."
"Have you told him about it?" Tim was curious if Matt knew what was going to happen, and if he had already agreed to it.
Dr. Tanaka nodded. "We spoke about it briefly. He said that he was willing to try it, but he wanted me to speak with Mr. Halls first."
"Do it," Simon said, making the decision before his head and his heart could battle it out for much longer. He wanted Matt to be okay, and for that to happen, his heart needed to be beating properly.
Dr. Tanaka gave Simon an encouraging smile. "It'll take us about an hour to get things set up and start the sedation, and then the procedure should only last a few minutes. Would you like to sit with him until it's time to begin?"
"Yes, please." Simon stood and shook the doctor's hand.
Tim followed Simon's lead until they were in the hallway heading back to Matt's room. He put his hand on Simon's shoulder and squeezed for a moment. "I'll stay until the procedure's complete."
Simon was incredibly relieved to have someone there with him. He never thought, when Matt told him about this crazy idea to film both the show and the movie at the same time and lose the weight to play Felix, that he would be here making scary medical decisions. "Thanks, Tim."
"None needed. I'm glad to be able to do something. When he collapsed…" Tim trailed off and clenched his jaw as the emotion overwhelmed him. "I'll do anything I can to make sure that he's okay."
"It really helps to know that someone's watching out for him out here," Simon said quietly. They were now standing outside Matt's room and Simon had his hand on the door handle, but he hadn't moved to open it. "I wish I could be in both places at once."
"I know the feeling," Tim replied. "And I'm happy to help. Matt's… Matt. I can't imagine anyone meeting him and not falling instantly in love."
Simon grinned at that, remembering his own first encounter with Matt. It had been one of the best days of his life.
Matt was sleeping when they entered the room, so they sat on either side of the bed and alternated between watching Matt and taking in the view of Central Park out the window. Too soon, Dr. Tanaka entered with a team of nurses and an anesthetist to take Matt for the procedure.
When Simon took a call from his sister and started to FaceTime with the boys, Tim stepped out of the room to call his own family, to talk to Elisa about what was going on. She knew the basics, but he explained the heart procedure through tears, and she instantly offered to get on a plane and fly out to be with him. He refused and promised that he would fly back as soon as Matt was doing better; he had a feeling that Simon was going to be staying in town for a little while.
It felt like an eternity before Matt was returned to his room, groggy and singing something softly to himself. Tim had to smile at that – sometimes it was hard to see where Matt stopped and Neal Caffrey began.
"He did very well," Dr. Tanaka told them with a smile. "His heart has resumed a normal rhythm, so we're going to start discontinuing his medications while he's here so that we can monitor him for any changes."
"Will there be any long term effects?" Simon was standing at the foot of Matt's bed, rubbing his husband's lower leg and foot while he talked to the doctor.
"He'll need to rest for the next week or two, and not put any strain on his body or his heart, but I think he'll make a full recovery." Dr. Tanaka scribbled something on Matt's chart and then handed it off to the nurse. "I recommend that he talk to his primary care physician and dietician about what happened and how to proceed."
"I've already made an appointment for next week with both of them," Simon replied. "We'll make sure he looks after himself. Thank you for all that you've done."
"I'll check back in on him this evening. If you have any questions, the nurses can page me."
Once the doctor and nurse were gone, Simon looked over at Tim, who was sitting beside Matt, holding his hand and telling him about a Yankees game. Matt was mostly asleep but making 'uh-huh' noises whenever Tim would pause.
"Matty, I'm going to go, and let you and Simon have some time. I'll be back tomorrow to check on you. Do you want me to bring you anything?"
"Soup," Matt murmured. "Chicken noodle from that place. You know the one?"
Tim chuckled. Matt was in a hospital suite with a gourmet menu, and he wanted soup from a hole in the wall deli on the Lower East Side. "Call me if you think of anything else."
Simon took Tim's vacated seat and leaned over so that he was almost nose-to-nose with Matt. "Hi."
"Hi," Matt echoed softly. He blinked at Simon, obviously too tired and drugged to do anything else. His hand flopped at his side once as if he was going to do something with it and then forgot what it was.
Simon put his hand over Matt's and pressed a kiss to his forehead. "Are you feeling okay?"
Pressing a hand to his chest, Matt nodded.
"Get some rest. We have a lot to talk about when you're feeling better."
"'M okay. Doctor said so."
"And we all want you to stay that way. Sleep now. We'll talk later."
"Mmhmm," Matt mumbled as he succumbed to the drugs and fatigue. It had been a long twenty-four hours, and his body had been put through the wringer.
Simon sat back in his chair and got comfortable. His sister had agreed to keep the boys for at least the rest of the week, and Simon had explained to them that Daddy wasn't feeling well, but that he would be okay and he would see them soon. Kit had looked skeptical but had played along for the twins' sakes, and Simon would talk to him privately later. For an eight-year-old, he had a very savvy intuition.
After that, they would work out a schedule where Simon and the boys would fly out to see Matt some weekends until filming was complete. The last thing he needed right now was to be stuck on a six hour flight, especially since Simon knew he couldn't sleep on planes.
Matt would be okay, and that was the most important thing. He had a lot of people around him that would make sure of it, and Simon was very grateful for all of them.
Thank you for reading!